Leviticus 18

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD said, 2“Moses, remind the Israelites that I am the LORD their God. 3You must not follow the practices of the Egyptians where you used to live, nor of the Canaanites where you are going. 4Instead, obey my laws and take care to follow my instructions. 5If you want to survive, obey all of my rules.

6“You must never approach any woman related to you for sexual favors. 7You must not dishonor your father and have sex with your mother. 8You must not engage in sex with your stepmother. 9You must not have sexual relations with your sister or half-sister, regardless of where she was born. 10You must not have sexual relations with your grandchildren, or you will dishonor yourself. 11You must not have sex with your half-sister born to your father but not your mother. 12You must not have sex with your aunt, your father’s sister, 13nor with your mother’s sister. 14You must not engage in sex with your uncle’s wife; she is your aunt. 15You must not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law, your son’s wife. 16You must not have sex with your brother’s wife, your sister-in-law. 17You must not engage in sexual activity with a woman and her daughter or her granddaughters, for that would be disgraceful. 18You shall not engage in sex with your wife’s sister while your wife is living.

19“Do not approach a woman for sex while she is menstruating.

20“Do not have sex with a relative’s wife.

21“Do not offer any of your children to Molech and smear my name; I am the LORD.

22“Do not lie with another man as you would with a woman; it is disgusting to me.

23“Do not engage in sexual activity with an animal and corrupt yourself, neither men nor women should ever have sex with an animal. That is degenerate.

24“Do not engage in any of these practices; the people I am driving out from the land I’m going to give you do these things and have defiled themselves 25and the land; and so I am punishing them, and the land will vomit them out. 26But you must live by my rules and laws and refrain from any of these despicable things, and this applies to foreigners who live among you as well. 27The inhabitants of the land committed all these filthy things and corrupted the land. 28And the land will vomit you out as well if you do these things. 29Anyone who does any of these things must be exiled from the people. 30Therefore, abide by my law and refrain from all of these wicked practices, for I am the LORD your God.”


1-5: The people are warned that the practices of the Egyptians and the Canaanites are not compatible with the covenant God offers Israel.

6-18: The chapter continues with a discussion of sexual relations — always a special concern in any human community. Moses outlines what God views as acceptable and unacceptable with regards to sexual activity. Some of the rules are obviously designed to protect the passing of estate wealth from one generation to another. Other rules are concerned with protecting covenant relationships of marriage within the community. Some of these rules seem to have to do with avoiding contention within families.

19: The reason a woman is not to engage in sexual activity during menstruation has to do with the whole concept of ceremonial cleanliness. Contact with blood renders one “unclean,” and therefore should be avoided whenever possible. If it is not possible, as is the case with women, then previous rules prescribe the steps to be taken to restore the person to being “clean.”

20: Adultery defiles both parties.

21: Scholars debate whether or not this verse refers to actual child sacrifice or to some other practice that has to do with dedicating children to a pagan god. In either case it is not to be allowed.

22: The law against male homosexual activity has drawn much attention in recent years, and many see it as an example of limited understanding among ancient people and therefore not binding in modern times. However, it is clear that the Holiness Code in Leviticus does not consider homosexual activity between men (homosexual activity between women is not considered here) to be acceptable among God’s covenant people. Most scholars think the reason has to do with humanity’s created nature as male and female, the joining of which is part of what it means to be made in God’s image. Homosexual activity is thus an affront to the will of God as revealed in our created nature. Remember that the purpose of these laws is to set God’s covenant people apart from the rest of the world.

23: Sexual relations with animals is prohibited for the same reason: it violates our created nature and thus is an affront to the will of God.

24-30: It is reiterated that the Canaanites do “all these things.” Their behavior has resulted in the land being “defiled,” and thus they are being “vomited out.” If the people of Israel do not obey God in the way they relate to one another, they, too, will be cast out of the land.


Human sexuality is always a touchy subject because it can result in very important outcomes — the birth of a child, the destruction of a marriage, the violation of a person’s will and privacy, the spread of dangerous disease. Our modern idea of human ‘rights’ has no place in the Holiness Code.